Florence Nightingale is one of my favorite women in science for several reasons. She was a determined individual who believed that she should fulfill her potential, not someone else’s idea of her future. She was also a rigorous and innovative thinker who changed the lives of many through applied medical statistics.
Although best known as a groundbreaking nurse and nursing educator (for which I respect her very much), Nightingale was also a pioneer in the field of applied statistics. She struggled to be allowed to study mathematics during her girlhood, but she prevailed over the opposition of her mother to pursue this “unfeminine” activity. During and after the Crimean War, she used public health data—compiled, analyzed, and presented in novel ways—to convince Queen Victoria and the British Parliament that improving sanitary conditions in the British military would decrease mortality in both war and peacetime. She created new ways of graphically presenting statistics so that these data could be more accessible and understandable to decision-makers. Florence Nightingale’s work in statistics was recognized in her lifetime; she was elected in 1858 to the Statistical Society of England. I like the fact that she tried and succeeded in making her field of study more accessible; many modern scientists and mathematicians cannot do this with many fewer barriers to their success.
To learn more see Science News November 2008.
Posted by Catherine Duckett, March 24, 2010